Feb. 12--The local branch of the FBI on Tuesday morning announced a temporary reward program to help arrest those who point lasers at aircraft.
Albuquerque FBI supervisory special agent Susan Ferensic said that pilots are seeing a huge increase in distracting contacts with laser beams pointed at them from the ground, and the Federal Aviation Administration has recorded an 1100 percent increase in "deliberate targeting" of pilots with handheld lasers since 2005.
In Albuquerque, 27 so-called "laser strikes" were recorded in 2013, an increase from 10 in 2011, according to data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Nationally, there were 3,960 reported, an average of around 11 per day, according to the FBI.
In response, the FBI will offer a reward up to $10,000 for the next 60 days for information that leads to the arrest of anyone who pointed a laser at an aircraft. The initiative is rolling out for the pilot program at 11 other regional FBI field offices, in addition to the one in Albuquerque.
Ferensic, who joined representatives from the FAA and the Air Line Pilots Association on Tuesday during a news conference at the Albuquerque International Sunport, said the small laser pointers often sold as key chains do not pose as great a risk as other, more high-powered lasers commonly used for astronomy or business presentations.
These lasers, Ferensic said, can blind or distract pilots during takeoff or landing, both the most critical times during an airplane flight.
"Anyone who thinks this is a prank is wrong," Ferensic said.
The FBI is not aware of any aircraft that has ever crashed because of a laser distraction, she said. Also, Sunport aviation police chief Marshall Katz said his officers have never been sent to arrest someone for pointing a laser at airplanes.
In addition to the reward program, the FBI is providing instruction material to Albuquerque and Rio Rancho schools to be distributed on social media and the districts' websites, said Monica Armenta, Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman. The warnings about misuse of handheld lasers will mostly target middle school and high school students, she said.
Those with tips about possible suspects are asked to call 911 or (505) 889-1300.
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